Pilots, High Altitude And Risk For Cataracts

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Pilots who operate at high altitudes have triple the risk of developing cataracts compared to other men their age, researchers at the University of Iceland reported in the August issue of Archives of Ophthalmology. The researchers said that of 445 men aged 50 or older in the study, 79 were airline pilots and 71 of them had cataracts. The likely cause is the exposure of the pilots to cosmic radiation, the study concludes. According to AVweb aviation medical columnist Dr. Brent Blue, the risk for GA pilots is significantly lower than for airline pilots. GA pilots fly at much lower altitudes and don't frequent the polar routes where radiation is more intense. However, "Exposure to sunlight is a more significant problem for the GA population and good UV protective eye wear is a must," Dr. Blue said. The only risk reduction available for radiation effects is to reduce the time spent at high altitude and along polar routes and to avoid flying during solar storms, he said. Cataracts cloud the eye's lens and can cause blindness unless they are removed surgically. Smokers and astronauts have also been shown to be at higher risk, the Iceland study said.